The EU will not fund “barbed wire or walls,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in defiance of calls from some governments to build protective defenses against migrants seeking to enter the bloc.
A number of EU leaders have raised concerns in recent weeks over the increase in the number of people seeking to cross the bloc’s borders, with eight having died on the Polish border with Belarus in recent months.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of seeking to orchestrate an EU crisis in an act of “hybrid war”, pushing migrants from the Middle East and Africa across its border in response to sanctions.
At a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Alexander Schallenberg, Austrian Chancellor, said “building a wall” on the Lithuanian border could be a method of defending the EU against what he called “cynical politics” by Lukashenko.
“We should also talk about a physical fence or a physical border, which is extremely necessary as a short-term measure,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda added at the start of the second day of the summit. “Because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Maybe there will be three, four, five thousand migrants who will stay at the border at the same time or try to cross the border in different places… We have to be decisive.
But at the end of the leaders’ meeting, Von der Leyen, who was tasked with finding a solution, said the EU would not succumb to such calls.
“I have been very clear that there is a long-standing view within the European Commission and the European Parliament that there will be no funding for barbed wire and walls,” he said. she declared. “We will keep the pressure on the Lukashenko regime. “
Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister, had been among the majority of leaders who refused to approve the EU-funded border walls during the five-hour summit talks.
“I would be ashamed to see a fence with an ‘EU funded’ sign on it,” he said. “These people are not being treated adequately, also by various European countries. Orderly migration must remain possible. We have to find the right balance. “
The number of migrants and refugees seeking to enter the EU remains relatively low for a bloc of 450 million people. Only around 5,100 have arrived across the Mediterranean so far this year, of which several thousand are believed to have passed through Belarus’ three neighboring EU countries – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
But the EU’s border agency Frontex said this month that nearly 134,000 had tried to enter the bloc this year, nearly 50% above the figures reported for the first nine months of 2019, before the Covid pandemic.
After lengthy discussions, the leaders removed a clause from the official summit communiqué that would have seen the bloc pledge to “finance physical barriers at the external borders”. “The EU remains determined to ensure effective border control,” they agreed instead.
Despite the changes, Nausėda called the result “a satisfactory result for Lithuania”. He said: “I think that now our partners understand very well the threat that frontline countries feel in the face of attacks by the Belarusian regime. “